Prirazlomnaya oil spill would threaten Russian Arctic with irreparable disaster: study

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Feature story - 14 August, 2012
The harsh conditions of the Pechora Sea coupled with an inadequate— and expired— oil spill response plan mean that Gazprom, the Russian energy giant and operator of the huge Arctic oil platform Prirazlomnaya would not be able to properly respond to an oil spill in in the Russian Arctic. Such an accident could lead to serious, long-term pollution of this fragile region, including nearby protected coastal areas and crucial wildlife habitiat.

14 August 2012

These are the conclusions of a new evaluation of possible Arctic oil spill scenarios from the oil platform Prirazlomnaya completed by Russian scientists, together with environmentalists from Greenpeace and WWF-Russia.

On the eve of the study’s release, Greenpeace Russia also discovered that Gazprom’s oil spill response plan expired in July, making any drilling the company undertakes in the Arctic illegal until a new one is submitted and approved. The Russian Ministry of Emergency confirmed in a letter to Greenpeace Russia that the plan the Ministry approved in 2007 for Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil platform expired last month, five years after it was filed.

"I’m in Russia to draw attention to the commercial development of the Arctic. The ice is melting, opening up access to offshore oil giants such as Shell and Gazprom. Oil companies tell us that they are ready for emergency situations and follow the highest environmental standards, yet Gazprom’s oil spill mitigation plan expired last month and scientists say their preparations are completely inadequate.They’re playing fast and loose in one of the most treacherous and fragile environments on the planet.” said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo at a press conference in Moscow “Shell argues that it has a world class response system in place in Alaska, and yet according to experts no proven way of removing oil from ice even exists. The findings of Russian scientists we are sharing today is the same: Gazprom is not able to effectively deal with spills in such harsh conditions."

At the request of Greenpeace Russia and WWF Russia, experts at the Russian center Informatica Riska ran computerised risk models on various oil spill scenarios on the platform Prirazlomnaya and determined the total area which may be affected by an accident.

"Our analysis showed that, within the standards established by the spill volumes, we could often observe conditions when the operating company will not be able to contain and recover the spill. For example, if a spill occurred at night or under adverse meteorological conditions,” said Valentin Zhuravel, project manager at Informatica Riska.  “This can lead to significant pollution in the Pechora Sea coast and protected areas."

To calculate a potential oil spill’s trajectory and the way it might spread, scientists used a special program that takes into account a wide set of parameters: the volume of spilled oil, hydro-meteorological conditions during the accident (the strength and direction of wind, wave height, ice conditions), as well as the actions the  company takes to manage the spill. The maximum amount of the spill was calculated according to official regulations: 1,500 tons for the wells and 10,000 tons for the tanker.

The experts reviewed tens of thousands of possible scenarios and concluded that the area of possible contamination covers over 140,000 square kilometers of open water (the size of Ireland), as well as over 3,000 kilometers of coastline. The area at risk also includes three protected areas located 50-60 km from the Prirazlomnaya oil platform: the Nenetsky natural reserve, as well as two wildlife preserves, Vaigach and Nenetsky. These reserves are home to walruses and countless species of birds. Gazprom does not include any funds for animal rescue in its oil spill response plan.
 
"There are no technologies to effectively remove the oil after a spill in the Arctic. For example, the list of equipment the operator of Prirazlomnaya has available to clean the shores includes 15 shovels, 15 buckets and one sledgehammer,” said Igor Chestin, Director of WWF Russia. “Since we do not have the technology to guarantee the mitigation of the consequences of an oil spill, we shouldn’t even talk about industrial development in the offshore Arctic shelf. "

Greenpeace is calling on Gazprom and the Russian government to abandon oil projects in the Arctic shelf and begin to implement alternative energy development in the country, focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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